With the anniversary of constitution promulgation approaching, Congress proposes amendmentsNepali Congress, under whose leadership the constitution was promulgated, has said it will make amendment one of its protest agendas.
As the Constitution Day approaches, the Nepali Congress, under whose leadership the constitution was promulgated four years ago, has reiterated its commitment to amending the constitution as per the demands of marginalised groups, including the Madhesi and indigenous communities.
A central working committee meeting of the party, which concluded last Tuesday, endorsed a 17-point contemporary political proposal presented by Joint General Secretary Prakash Sharan Mahat, who said that the party would make constitution amendment one of its protest agendas if the government failed to address them.
“The Nepali Congress is committed to the amendment proposal presented by the Sher Bahadur Deuba-led government,” states the proposal. “The [KP Sharma Oli] government has not only shelved the remaining proposals for constitution amendment presented by the Deuba-led government, including issues related to the people of Tarai-Madhes, women, and indigenous nationalities, but is also tightening their rights.”
According to Congress leaders, members of the party’s central committee spoke both for and against the constitutional amendment proposal. Leaders representing the Tarai-Madhes, including Mahendra Yadav and Ananda Prasad Dhungana, stood strongly in favour of the proposal while those from the hills, including Dhanraj Gurung and Bal Krishna Khand, were for not opening the “Pandora’s box”.
According to a member of the central working committee present at the meeting, the leaders speaking against the proposal said that they shouldn’t raise the issue while they are a minority in the House. Khand said that if they pushed for constitutional amendments, this government, which holds a two-thirds majority in Parliament, could instead amend the charter to endorse a directly-elected President or prime minister, according to a central member.
The constitution was drafted and passed by the second Constituent Assembly in September 2015 during the tenure of the late Congress president Sushil Koirala as prime minister, despite serious reservations from the Madhes-based parties, Tharus and Janajatis.
In response to the reservations, the first amendment to the constitution was passed in January 2016 when KP Sharma Oli was the prime minister, but disgruntled groups said it was too little, too late.
Another seven-point Constitution Amendment Bill was registered in Parliament by the Pushpa Kamal Dahal-led coalition government in August 2016. The proposal was then put by the Deuba-led government to a vote, but it failed to garner the required two-thirds majority, as the Rastriya Prajatantra Party skipped the vote while the then CPN-UML did not support the move.
The proposed amendments included redrawing the provincial boundaries, recognition of languages, addressing issues related to citizenship, and representation in the National Assembly in order to address the demands of the Madhes-based parties. But since the 2017 elections, which the UML and Maoist parties contested jointly, constitution amendment has largely been put on the backburner.
Though the new government under Oli got the backing of two Madhes-based parties—Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal and the Sanghiya Samajbadi Forum-Nepal (now the Samajbadi Party Nepal)—constitution amendment was never on the agenda.
The Rastriya Janata Party pulled out of the government in March after the Kailali District Court slapped its lawmaker-elect Resham Chaudhary with a life term.
The court convicted Chaudhary in relation to the Tikapur protests of August 2015, a month before the promulgation of the constitution, in which at least nine people including a senior police official and a toddler were killed.
Asked why the Congress has chosen this particular time to raise the issue of constitution amendment, Ananda Prasad Dhungana, a central committee member, said that his party wants to revive its pending proposal, as it still remains relevant.
“An amendment to the constitution is necessary,” said Dhungana. “Koirala, who was the prime minister in 2015, had urged all the parties to adopt the constitution with a promise that outstanding issues would be addressed later.”